Tuesday, December 13, 2005

DRM Again

According to The Register, Gartner reckons "the music industry will abandon attempts to encumber CDs with DRM software and refocus its efforts on pushing legislation to require that DRM technology be integrated into PCs."

(Sigh) And so it goes on. Nowhere is the long-running and futile attempt to use technological locks to keep the world away from what they want so concentrated as in the matter of DRM. Having apparently realised the futility of building it into the media, they figure to put it into the base hardware.

This is as likely to work as the last such attempt: making DVD-ROM players region-specific via firmware. No doubt there are some people whose DVD-R players are actually locked to a specific region, but anyone who doesn't want this lockdown will find that a crack is a brief Google away at worst. If you can get in before the firmware locks itself, you can probably find a freeware defeat. After the lock comes in to force, you may have to pay for the crack, but you can certainly still defeat it. More recent DVD burners and their drivers appear to have stopped bothering about the issue altogether, so pointless has it become.

If future brand-name PCs appear with hardware-based DRM, they will simply provide more incentive to go for less mainstream motherboards without such features. The mainstream manufacturers will presumably not be unaware of this factor, and will resist their inclusion. Their best bet would be to make any locks they put in inherently crackable, and the online community will no doubt supply the goods in a while. Chances are there’ll be a ‘secret’ back-door defeat that will mysteriously leak to the public in short order after the kit hits the street.

If the mechanism is put into the O/S, the first cracks for it will probably appear while the stuff is in Beta.

It’s a senseless waste of energy, except for one factor: it’s clear that Apple’s success in getting the music industry buy-in to iTunes was strongly influenced by the ‘uncrackable’ MP4 DRM they included. This appears to have convinced the music publishers to allow their precious files out into the world.

It didn’t stay uncrackable for long. Prior to iTunes 6.0, Apple's DRM was comprehensively cracked, and translation of iTunes music files to straight MP3 became trivial. iTunes v6 introduced a new algorithm, which at the time of writing is still uncracked. It’s unlikely to remain so for long, though. I can only assume that the music moguls complained to Apple, or that Apple felt that they should maintain the fa├žade of uncopyable music for a while longer, until they had more music houses on board. Eventually they’ll presumably give up, lest they force the community they’re frustrating to come up with a mechanism that’ll crack anything – it’s already quite feasible to read the sound synth’s data tables directly.

I guess this is a transition period. They’re always a drag.

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